Would you rather have a bottom-tier red zone offense and defense or have the worst red zone scoring unit and the best red zone defensive unit? Tough choice, eh? But this is the stark reality for both the Las Vegas Raiders and the Denver Broncos.
The two AFC West foes meet this Sunday inside Allegiant Stadium in a classic “something’s got to give” clash. The Silver and Black boast the 26th-ranked red zone scoring offense and the 30th-ranked red zone defensive unit. Out of 13 trips to the red zone, head coach (and play caller) Josh McDaniels’ Raiders offense has scored touchdowns on six occasions (46.2%). Flip it over to Patrick Graham, and his Raiders defense has seen opponents reach the red zone 10 times and score eight touchdowns on those trips (a whopping 80%).
What does Raiders QB Derek Carr have to say about all of this?
Red zone performance on both sides of the Raiders ball is — in the words of Las Vegas franchise quarterback Derek Carr — yucky.
“It’s going to take all of us. It takes all 11, every single time. And the faster that we can all do the right thing, those percentages will go up,” Carr said of the Raiders’ red zone performances. “It’s in the film. We believe in what coach is saying. We see it the way he’s saying it. But yes, I’m confident that it’ll get better. Now, where does that confidence come from? It comes from the work that we’re putting in and how hard we worked at it today. Guys are running until they can’t run anymore just to get it right. I’m confident that it’ll get better, but we have to do it on game day. We have the right guys to do it, we have the right coaches, we believe in the scheme. It just takes time.”
#Raiders have had 51 red zone drives end in a made FG the past 3 seasons. No other team has more than 41
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) September 25, 2022
At 0-3, the Raiders’ time to correct their course is running out. And here come the 2-1 Broncos, who could potentially compound matters for the Silver and Black.
Fortunately for Las Vegas, galloping on offense is something these breeds of horses are not. Head coach and chief play caller Nathaniel Hackett has his $245-million quarterback Russell Wilson at the very bottom — dead last — in the league in red zone efficiency. Out of seven trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, Denver has scored only one touchdown (a paltry 14.3%). Where the Broncos are sprinting, however, is red zone defense. Ejiro Evero’s defense is the top-ranked unit in the red zone, limiting teams to four red zone trips and only one touchdown (25%).
Who has the advantage, if any?
So which way is the pendulum going to sway this Sunday? Will the Raiders’ defense continue to roll out the red carpet for the opposition once they’ve entered the red zone? Will the Broncos’ defense continue to suffocate opponents when they enter the 20-yard line?
Las Vegas is in a five-way tie for the league’s best in red zone trips at 13. But out of that group that includes the Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, and Jacksonville Jaguars, the Raiders have the lowest touchdown percentage. The Lions have the highest at 84.6%, if you’re curious.
#Raiders are 1 of 5 teams that lead the NFL in red-zone trips with 13.
Hereâ€™s how those 5 teams rank in red-zone TD percentage:
— Moe Moton (@MoeMoton) September 29, 2022
Considering how bogged down both McDaniels’ and Hackett’s respective offenses have looked this season, it’s conceivable the red zone has become a relative dead zone for both teams, and we’re treated to a salvo exchange between Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson and Broncos boot specialist Brandon McManus.
Denver is in a four-way tie in terms of most field goals attempted with nine. Las Vegas is right behind, nipping at the heels in a four-way tie with eight attempts.
The numbers, ladies and gentlemen, are putrid.
For the Raiders, the inability to get the ball past the goal line for a touchdown when in the red zone has become a frequent topic of conversation. So much so, the answer to the ailment is one thing:
“Just execution,” Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams said plainly during his media session on Wednesday. “And like I said, just being able to adjust in the game and find out what’s the best way and best plays to get to give us the best chance at having success.”
Execution in the red zone is mission-critical, especially against a Broncos team that is the best at defending offenses inside the 20. McDaniels knows this, as his Wednesday press conference began with unprompted praise of Denver.
“Explosive team in all three phases, no doubt. They’re playing well on defense right now. Good pass rush, very good pass rush. They play a lot of tight coverage; they’re pretty good in the defensive backfield. (Pat) Surtain and (Ronald) Darby may be one of the best duos that we’re going to see all year. They’ve been keeping people out of the end zone, creating turnovers, and forcing more fumbles than any team in the league so far. So, that’ll be a big challenge.”
Between Patrick Surtain II and Ronald Darby, the cornerback duo has allowed a combined 87 yards on 12 completions and one touchdown. And they’re supported up front by Broncos pass rushers Bradley Chubb (three sacks, eight pressures), Dre’Mont Jones (two sacks, four pressures) and Randy Gregory (two sacks, six pressures).
“Oh, man. Randy, they added Randy. Great player. I’ve thought since he came into the league, he’s been a phenomenal talent, a phenomenal player,” Carr said of Denver’s pass rush. “Chubb is unbelievable. Before Randy was there, it was Von (Miller) and Chubb. Before them, it was Von and DeMarcus (Ware) and Shaq (Barrett) and Shane Ray. I’ve seen my fair share of pass rushers in this division. These guys are awesome.”
What won’t be awesome is another set of p*ssyfoot red zone performances. Because if those field goals by the reliable Carlson aren’t good enough, Las Vegas will be in an 0-4 hole with a trip to meet the Kansas City Chiefs awaiting them the following Sunday. And then, it’s likely 0-5 heading into the bye.
Thus, the Raiders must take care of business at home against the Broncos. Yes, 1-3 is yucky, but it beats going into Arrowhead winless and potentially getting curb stomped into 0-5.